O'Brien County's Bell-Times-Courier -

Ringing in the Past


March 26, 2020

Dave Schmidt, Mark Cody and Jim Streufert.

Once upon a time the school bell tolled for the start of a new school day. Bells mounted high into buildings were used as a communication device for a variety messages; fire, storm, church services. Then came sirens, telephones, radios, television, cellular. The idea that a simple bell once heralded people to action is more a trip into nostalgia than it might be to historical fact and methodology. In Sutherland, the discovery and rejuvenation of the original school bell brings forth the feelings of nostalgia and serves as a reminder of how communities functioned in days gone by.

The first school building in Sutherland was built in 1885, a wood framed structure featuring a bell-tower. The brass bell housed in the tower often rang out messaging to the town's people. The wood-framed building stood proudly for 29 years. In 1919 the bell tower showed its age. The sagging was undeniable and presented a public danger. A new building began construction on the same spot in 1921 and opened its doors to educate the children of Sutherland in 1922. The brick structure stands today and serves many functions within the Sutherland and beyond community in a variety of ways.

In the meantime, where is the school bell?

The 3-story brick structure served as a k-12 school until 1993 and sold to Sutherland Recreation Corporation (SRC) in 1996. The bell reappeared and was placed in the highway frontage space of the new school where it stood until the buildings closing as a school in 2004.

The bell was donated to "Sutherland Remembers When Society." It was recently rediscovered in a downtown building that was once a carwash. "Sutherland Remembers When Society" made arrangements with the management at Willoway, the umbrella organization housed in the brick school building once owned by SRC, to loan the bell to Willoway.

Mark Cody, who manages day-to-day functions at Willoway worked closely with Joel DeWeerd, co-owner and operator of JJ Customs in Sutherland to refurbish the bell. This is the third bell restored by JJ Customs. Justin DeWeerd and Gary DeWeerd (Joel and Justin's dad) join Joel in his auto body (and other restoration) endeavor.

A skid loader was required to move the bell made from brass, most likely cast with engraving on 2 sides. Joel described the effort. "It took a couple of days. Most of it was waiting (for chemicals to work or to dry). It took a couple of days to separate the frame from the bell alone." He says a 6' cheater was necessary to break the nut loose to remove the cast steel frame from the bell. All the pieces were blasted and cleaned. Cody opted for a weathered look to the bell as opposed to a shiny new look. The frame is painted in a high gloss black with a protective coating and polished. The method minimizes smudges.

Dave Schmidt of Calumet purchased some of the flooring from the school building before its remodeling. Schmidt used some of that flooring to create a base upon which the bell now rests. The bell is on display on the main floor of Willoway near the office and community room.

Justin DeWeerd, Gary DeWeerd and Joel DeWeerd of JJ Customs.

When SRC purchased the building in 1996 the vision was to transform the space into affordable housing for 55 and over. The third floor has served that purpose well in the 18 years since its opening. Affordable housing units have expanded to the second floor. Shortterm units are available on the main floor. Dinner Date is served Monday through Friday in the north end community room and memberships for the fitness center and swimming pool are available. The community room and swimming pool are available for rent to private parties, meetings or other special event. A kitchen is adjacent to the community room. For more information contact Mark Cody at 712-446-2599.

For any ideas about where the bell was kept from 1921 to 1996 please contact O'Brien County's Bell-Times-Courier at 949-3622 or Mark Cody at 446-2599.


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